Photographing Reptiles and Amphibians

Photographing your pet reptiles and amphibians is something every exotic animal owner loves to do. But, a lot of the time it can be difficult to work with the animal and the shots just aren’t coming out the way you were hoping. Well, I’m here to help! I’ve been photographing reptiles and amphibians in the wild and in captivity for close to 5 years now and have won several contests with my shots. I’ve worked with Corn Snakes, Ball Pythons, Boa Constrictors, and many more venomous and non-venomous snakes over the course of my photography experience. Now, I’m going to give you the secrets to my success!

Taking great photos of these magnificent animals is a scientific and artistic mixture of several different ingredients. It takes a great eye for composition and lighting, knowledge of the animal in front of you (i.e. behaviors, tendencies, etc.), and most importantly PATIENCE! Remember that unlike a human subject, reptiles and amphibians (we’ll refer to them as “herps” from here on out) don’t know what you’re trying to do and can be very rambunctious frustrating – just hang in there!

Great shots don’t happen on the first or second click of the button (unless you’re lucky of course) which brings us to our first photography tip – use a digital camera! Most film development centers are going out of business anyways and digital is the easiest way to take and store thousands of photos for you and your family. My preference is to use a Digital SLR (Single Reflex Lens) camera body and a series of interchangeable lenses as they give you the most control over your photographical subject. If you’re not willing to spend the money, however, a Point & Shoot Digital camera works great as well. Just remember, the more manual control you have over the camera the better!

Now that we have our camera selected let’s focus on what truly makes a good photograph and what photography truly is – painting with light. No matter what the subject is, we’re trying to use light in a way that portrays the subject the way we imagine it in our mind. The camera sensor is not as good at distinguishing between different intensities of light, and in order to get all of the detail in the photo the way we imagine it, we have to understand the interaction and difference in light intensities. In doing so we see the detail in the highlights and shadows that could otherwise be lost, and take away from the image you’re trying to create. Playing with deep shadows and blown out whites can be fun in an artistic point-of-view, but when going for a truly natural looking shot, it will hurt your image.  frogs for sale

So, try and keep all of your images within 3 stops of light from the brightest to the darkest, giving you contrast and detail in the same image! The best ways of doing this are shooting with diffused light. Direct light is very harsh and created areas of deep shadows and blown-out highlights, so we want to diffuse it and make these areas of shadow and intensity blend together and soften accordingly. Want to know the cheapest way to create great light? Naturally! Shooting outside on days that are overcast or in the early morning and late evening hours when the sun isn’t as intense and the light is a brilliant orange color can be some of the best times for photography, and it’s absolutely free! Finally, when shooting inside, the greatest way to utilize natural light is by photographing your subject near a window. Window light can give a magnificent diffusivity to light and create beautiful shadows and contrast in the photo. In order to harness this great light, however, we have to know the proper settings on our camera!

When trying to find and compose your image, remember the rule of thirds and compose based on this photographic rule (divide the image into three columns and three rows, the points of intersection should be close to where the main subject of your image is focused). You want to make sure the eye of your subject is also your focusing point, and that your depth-of-field is deep enough to keep most of the animal in focus. To accomplish this, keep your aperture around f/5.6-f/8 and you should have a very good range of sharpness in your photo. To keep the noise low in your photos, watch the ISO level on your camera (if you can adjust this). The higher your ISO is, the more noise you’re going to have in your photo, but you’re also going to be able to shoot in darker environments. The lower the ISO, the cleaner your photo is, but you’re not letting as much light reach your sensor, so you’re not going to be able to shoot in as dark an environment as you may like.

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